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Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Coronavirus: Anticipating rise in samples to be tested, says ICMR lead epidemiologist

“This is a constantly evolving outbreak, and we are not sure what numbers of (suspected cases) we are looking at. We are anticipating an increase in the number of samples to be tested,” said Dr R R Gangakhedkar, Head of Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases at ICMR in an interview.

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas | Pune | Updated: February 1, 2020 4:14:08 pm
Dr R R Gangakhedkar

The number of samples to be tested of suspected coronavirus infections is expected to go up and the government is enhancing its capacity to ensure that any possible spread in the country is arrested, the lead epidemiologist at the Indian Council of Medical Research said on Friday.

“Our preparedness levels are high, nationally. At NIV (National Institute of Virology), Pune, about 750 samples can be tested every day. Each test takes about four hours. As of today, we have reagents (chemicals needed for tests) to carry out at least 10,000 diagnostic tests,” he said.

Till Friday morning, 70 cases of suspected infection were tested. All but one has come out negative. The one positive case is that of a Kerala student, who had recently returned from Wuhan — the Chinese city that is the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.

Gangakhedkar said everyone who had travelled to Wuhan and was showing symptoms of infection would be screened and tested. “Early diagnosis is crucial. The longer it takes to diagnose or trace the contacts (of an infected person), the greater is the chance that the disease can spread to more people. Hence, all symptomatics (people with symptoms) who travelled to Wuhan and returned will be screened and tested,” he said.

He said efforts were being made to ensure that diagnostic services were available in all parts of the country. “We have a network of 106 virus research and diagnostic laboratories. NIV in Pune is the nodal laboratory where presently samples are being screened and tested. Another 12 laboratories, close to international airports, will also start screening samples,” he said.

He added that Indian students in different institutions in Wuhan, who are being brought back, will be kept under observation in isolation, but admitted that keeping everyone returning from China in isolation was not possible.

“Those who come from Wuhan will be kept under observation. Those who are asymptomatic (not showing symptoms) and are coming from other parts of China and certain ports will be asked to stay within their homes for at least 14 days,” he said.

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